Preparing for a busy month

We just returned from visiting friends in Arkansas. Chris took his banjo and borrowed a guitar, so we were able to do a few songs for them. I didn’t take my bass, and as we played we found out how much the bass contributed to keeping our tempo steady–we both felt out of control. It’s something we probably need to work on.

We’re gearing up for a month which will keep us pretty busy. On December 3 we’ll be playing three fifty-minute sets at Java J’s, a coffee shop in Abingdon. That means we’ll be performing around thirty songs, three times as much as we’ve done at any one time. So between now and then our practice schedule is heavy.

Following that we’ll be playing a fifty-minute set at Exchange Place on December 5, as part of their Christmas program. Then on December 9 we’ll join Ron Short’s old time string band class at the Pickin’ Porch, backing them up on a number of tunes and also playing songs while the class retunes. On December 17 we’ll be doing a few Christmas songs at an Appalshop celebration. And we’re tentatively performing at an Appalshop fundraiser around the same time.

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String band class

Our friend Ron Short is devoting himself to nurturing Appalachian music in the area where Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia meet. One of his projects is an old time string band class he teaches at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, about an hour from Bristol. Thursday night Chris and I drove up to pay them a visit.

The structure of the class is impressive. They meet weekly for about three hours (6-9pm), and Ron teaches them the basics of ensemble playing. While we were there we played songs and sets of tunes that taught odd key changes, crooked meter, and different rhythms (reel time, waltz time, ragtime). The students vary widely in their proficiency, but they can all make basic chord changes smoothly, and that is enough to participate.

This particular evening the class was preparing for their performance at the BCMA Pickin’ Porch in Bristol on December 9. Chris and I will be there as well, playing along with the class and also ready to sing a song or two on our own as the class retunes for the next set of songs. We sang a few songs during the class, and they seemed to go over well.

Old-time jam

Last night Chris and I went to another old-time jam in Johnson City. Because something else was scheduled at the coffee house, the jam was held at the house our Norwegian friends are renting while they study music at ETSU. The neighborhood was close to the college, and pretty seedy. During one song Chris looked out the living room window and saw a policeman on the porch, peering in. It turns out they were looking for the house behind the one we were in, for reasons we never found out.

We played for two enjoyable hours, but it will be our last jam for at least a month. Not because of the policeman, but because our schedule is pretty full from now until mid-December. What free time we have between now and December 3 will be spent practicing for a performance the Ridgewood Boys have agreed to do at Java J’s, a coffee house in nearby Abingdon, Virginia. We’ll be playing for three hours, which means three 50-minute sets, which means lots of songs need to be brought up to performance level.